My pedagogical research interests are focused on a main theme of facilitating scientific literacy and translational skill development of undergraduate students. I have approached this goal through pedagogical research evaluating methods that can be used to enhance student learning outcomes and engagement within the science classroom in addition to discipline-related mentoring of undergraduate students in the laboratory. Both research directions involve the direct supervision of students in team-based projects that are directed towards publishable manuscripts that are co-authored amongst all student participants. A more broad research interest of mine has been the analysis of Blended Learning course outcomes on student learning and the measurement of student reflections and course-related outcomes as self-reported in the McMaster Learning Portfolio database. It is through this type of an analysis that it will be possible to identify the academic and professional development of our students and their ultimate career action plans. My research projects are outlined below:
Evaluating the Impact of Long-Term STEM Engagement Projects on Science Education
Funding: Postdoctoral Research support provided by the McMaster McCall/MacBain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program (2020-onward); and the NSERC PromoScience Program (2020)
The STEM Engagement Project (StEP) at McMaster University provides barrier-free STEM opportunities for all youths from grades 9-12, with special focus on youths from under-represented backgrounds. Administered by the Department of Biology, StEP builds off an Active Learning Workshops Series that has provided thousands of students with hands-on authentic STEM activities over the last 10 years. Most recently, we have established the Engaging Teachers in STEM Education Certificate program in collaboration with McMaster’s Centre for Continuing Education to further support youths in local schools and their teachers. This holistic approach to science promotion will positively impact not only students and teachers, but the educational system as a whole.
We have currently established a partnership with the McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows Teaching and Leadership Program at McMaster University to design and implement a long-term research project that will evaluate the impact that this type of programming has on both major stakeholders: teachers and students in STEM trajectories (from highschool to postsecondary pathways). This research is being conducted in collaboration with Drs. Elizabeth Weretilnyk and Robin Cameron (Professors-Department of Biology) together with (as of January 2020) McCall/MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows- Dr. Solmaz Irani
Horizontal Curriculum Integration within a Biology Program
Funding: McMaster MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship program (2018-present) with Postdoctoral Research support provided by the McMaster McCall/MacBain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program (2020-onward)
While students who graduate from McMaster having completed one of the biology programs will have attained most of the 41 PLOs formally developed by the Department, it is not known to what degree students are able to integrate their knowledge across courses within their program. With a commitment to improve student learning, success and attainment of program-level PLOs, this LTL project has the goal of implementing horizontal curriculum integration between courses at the third year level in the Department of Biology. Specifically, this project will involve students within two programs: Molecular Biology & Genetics and Physiology.
A secondary interest of this project is to investigate the psychosocial impact that a reduced assignment load may have on student performance and overall stress perception. With the implementation of effective crossover assignments that are targeted to strengthen horizontal curriculum integration, this project also has the potential to reduce the number of assignments that students are tasked with completing throughout any academic session.
This research is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Robin Cameron, Professor-Department of Biology, Abeer Siddiqui, Learning Support Librarian at McMaster University and Alastair Tracey, Undergraduate Coordinator-Department of Biology, together with (as of January 2020) McCall/MacBain Postdoctoral Fellows- Drs. Oana Birceanu and Dennis Kolosov. This project is funded by the MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship.
Assessing the Outcomes of Blended Learning in a Level I Biology Course
Funding: McMaster MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship Program (2015-present)
The Department of Biology has implemented the Blended Learning approach in its first year Cell and Molecular Biology (BIO1A03) course since Spring 2014, and has since offered the course in the same format every Fall, Winter and Spring term. This course currently serves approximately 1500 across the Faculty of Science per academic year, and introduces students to the fundamental concepts of Cellular and Molecular Biology.
Now that the course is up and running, we have evaluated the effectiveness of this model on student perceptions of learning, and also on the outcomes of student performance throughout the course. To evaluate student perspectives, research was conducted in collaboration with the McMaster MacPherson Institute and work-study students/scholars to survey students across multiple BIO1A03 course offerings during year 1 and 2 of the study. A quantitative approach was also utilized to evaluate the effectiveness of the Blended Learning approach in BIO1A03 on promoting scientific literacy in the area of knowledge & understanding, communication & application and critical thinking & inquiry. Through this research, we have evaluated that Blended Learning is indeed a transformational teaching tool that is effective in promoting scientific literacy in the areas of knowledge & understanding, communication & application and critical thinking & inquiry in first year Cellular and Molecular Biology students.
This is a McMaster Research Ethics Board approved research project, and we are currently in preparation of a manuscript that will report the results of our findings with research students Irtaza Tahir (Hons. Life Sciences), Victoria Radauskas (Arts and Sciences), Victoria Van Mierlo (Hons. Biology), Wayne Yeung (Hons. Biology & Pharmacology) and Alastair Tracey (Undergraduate Course Coordinator and Co-Investigator). This project was funded by a MacPherson Institute Leadership in Teaching and Learning Fellowship.
Social Media and Technological Teaching Tools in the Science Classroom
Social media continues to play an increasing role in student engagement in the classroom. Past studies have reviewed student and faculty viewpoints on the use and implementation of social media in the classroom, but few studies have empirical data on the benefits or drawbacks of integrating social media in higher-level education. Furthermore, the few studies that have empirical data mandate the use of social media as a part of course marking schemes.
In collaboration with Giuliana Guarna (former BIO4F06 student), we have completed a research project (implemented in the LifeSci3A03 course) that evaluated the effectiveness of the use of social media in the classroom environment in a manner that was not reflected in student grades. This is a McMaster Research Ethics Board approved research project, and we plan to submit the results from this study for publication.
Follow up research included collaborating with Lauren Tabone (former BIO4C09 student) to explore the use of exploring of the use of social media and technological teaching tools in the high school science classroom as a means of developing scientific literacy in pre-university students. Results of this study will also be submitted for publication.
Establishing a Meta-analysis based Learning Portfolio database
Funding: McMaster University Forward with Integrity Grant (2014-2016)
This research analyzed the current McMaster Learning Portfolios database to capture quantitative metrics pertaining to the courses, experiential placements, volunteer opportunities, and extracurricular opportunities experienced by students pursuing various programs and career paths. Through this project, we have developed a novel framework for a learning portfolio model that will more effectively provide students with formative feedback in courses and along the completion of their undergraduate programs.
This is a McMaster Research Ethics Board approved research project that was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Andrew McArthur, Associate Professor and Cisco Chair in Bioinformatics in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster. This project was funded by the McMaster Forward with Integrity (FWI) fund
Discipline-Related Project-Based Undergraduate Research and Mentoring:
Working to understand the biology of pest organisms -The McMaster Stink Bug Project
Funding: McMaster Science Society- Academic Science Fund
There are many characteristics of model organisms that make them beneficial for use in undergraduate teaching and independent research projects. One such model organism is the invasive brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), a major agricultural pest that is rapidly spreading throughout North America and Europe. I have recently established an undergraduate-driven research program in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University, investigating the integrated cardiovascular and immune physiological processes of these stink bugs and other relevant agricultural pests. Discoveries made through these projects will not only contribute towards possible pest control strategies but will most importantly provide undergraduate students with more experiential opportunities for applied, discipline-related research activities and research opportunities in the Faculty of Science.
Through this research, I have supervise 5-6 undergraduate research students per academic year in the Applied Learning Lab for Undergraduate Research Excellence (ALLURE). The ultimate goal of this long-term program is to contribute to the development of students in the Faculty of Science at McMaster as integrative scholars with the understanding that knowledge is not just learned, but is acquired through authentic hands-on, project-based discovery. This will result in peer-reviewed publications co-authored by the undergraduate student researchers, in addition to collaborations with internal and external academic and industrial partners. Many facets of this project have also contributed to curriculum development in Biology and Life Science Program lab courses.
We are currently in preparation of our first manuscript with research students Irtaza Tahir (former Hons. Life Sciences student) , Ryan Peters and Victoria Radauskas (former Arts and Sciences/Biology Students) in collaboration with Dr. Angela B. Lange (University of Toronto)